A few weeks ago, I was browsing in a computer shop and was intrigued to see a Slingbox on sale. As I understand it, the idea is that you hook it up to your TV antenna and cable box, and can then you can use a PC anywhere in the world (or your mobile phone) to watch TV - and it allows you to change the channel on your cable box.
Then a couple of weeks ago I saw one in the window of a '3' mobile phone shop. The logic is obvious enough - maybe this is the 'killer application' that was provides a compelling reason to have a 3G mobile phone. Even better for the phone companies is that if they charge by the kilobyte you can run up a huge bill - and the Sunday Times recently found someone who owed £950 for just four days usage:
Michael Schaefer, 46, an IT specialist from Ealing, west London, was charged £950 in just four days by O2 after using his 3G (third generation) phone to view TV for just two hours. 3G phones offer high-speed access to the internet, allowing users to download TV, films and music to their phones while on the move. Firms have spent billions rolling out the technology across their networks and drumming up interest in the devices.
Schaefer connected his O2 mobile to his home TV with a device called a Slingbox, which uses a broadband link to allow programmes to be “streamed” directly to a high-speed mobile without having to wait for it to download. Slingboxes are available from Currys for £140.
Fortunately, '3' (in the UK and here in Hong Kong) are offering a flat rate tariff, so there shouldn't be any such nasty surprises (apart from the chance of 'Fei Fei' or any number of other gruesome local TV 'celebrities' appearing unwanted on your mobile phone).
I have no idea whether it works with Now Broadband TV (it may not, because their control box is something they had specially made using bits from an old DVD player), but Doug Crets was speculating that this would be a cheap way to watch EPL matches "on the go" (more here and here). As it happens, there was something in the SCMP today on the general subject of the Sling Box, pointing out that it's not a particularly convenient way to watch TV (no rewind, fast forward or pause), so I don't think that PCCW will be worrying too much about that - but it may have an impact on how much they can charge for EPL coverage on their own 3G network.
The more interesting thing is that '3' are moving away from the "walled garden" approach of limiting what you watch, and the charging structure is quite reasonable. Anyone with long memories will recall that Hutchison (owners of '3') were very aggressive with their mobile phone tariffs a few years ago, and forced everyone else to reduce prices to compete with them. Here we are again.